Getting Feedback

I finished the draft of Tallulah Jones!

I’m calling it draft 6, but really, it’s been partially revised and rewritten so many times, that’s just an estimate. Daniel, prince among men that he is, read it in five days flat so that we could talk about it on our drive to Morro Bay this last weekend.

As I’ve said before, I think most people should be skeptical if their spouse thinks their work is great, and I don’t doubt that Daniel is at least a little biased, but he is also a creative professional. He works on screenplays and story development all day every day. So when he tells me the work is good, I feel inclined to believe him.

We went camping this weekend with some old friends in central california. It was about four hours to get there, so we downloaded some Roald Dahl books for the kids to listen to, and we talked story. We often take advantage of long drives to give each other feedback, as we don’t get too many opportunities for long, focused conversation these days.

The main push of Daniel’s feedback had to do with ways to emphasize themes, and really think about the overall motivation of characters, specifically my more minor characters. This is very encouraging, as it points toward the rest of the story holding together well over all. The words “page turner” were used.

So that’s exciting. We will need to make a date to go over the specifics of his notes, but it’s nice to feel like I have finally figured out this story. It is shaping up to be a solid debut novel. I don’t think it will ever be the brilliant work of art I had hoped to create, but it’s solid. And I’ve learned so much. It gives me real hope that this second novel, this story I absolutely love, could get up over that hill of greatness. I would be satisfied with that.

Anyhow, we had a lovely time camping, spent some time exploring, and then hanging at the beach on Saturday.

On the drive home we talked out a sticky spot in Daniel’s screenplay. I can’t wait until I get to read it. For all the challenges of being two creative people building a life together (financial, emotional), I feel so very lucky to have a partner who actually gets excited to work with me on a project, and who is such a talented writer in his own right.

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When To Call a Book Done

office 1I started the new job last week, on Tuesday. In case you haven’t been following along, my new position is with a civil engineering company. I’m doing technical writing, and working 80% full time, so I have Mondays off (which so far is awesome). You can see the office needs a little decorating (I already asked them to move all those filing cabinets), but the simple fact that they got the accent right on the name plate made me feel very welcome.

It looks like I’m going to be doing a lot of work relating to the drought. The company I work for does a lot of water storage and management projects, and now, with the passing of the water bond last November, there is a lot of work coming down the pipeline (so to speak). It feels like a sweet spot for me, where my interests and abilities have come together in a way that actually gets me paid.

Then there’s the work I’m not getting paid for (yet). I’m still working on finishing a draft of the first novel, “The Feathered Tale of Tallulah Jones.” It’s getting close. This might be the week. The thing I’m struggling with now is when to call it done. I have a lot of writer friends, as you might imagine. Some say make it as good as you possibly can before you send out query letters, which makes sense to me, but others say that no matter how done you think it is, your agent/editor/publisher will have edits they want you to make, so you should make it good, and then go ahead and start sending it out.

Of course, those writer friends have friends who are agents, which gives them a foot in the door. They have agents who will read their work and pass on to their friends. But, if I’m an agent, and some friend of mine says “hey read this” I’m not going to get very far if I don’t love it, so it still seems like, as the author, you would want your work to be great.

I heard an agent at a panel discussion once describe her thought process. She said that she starts manuscripts in her office, and if something grabs her attention she will take it home and read it in bed. She said something to the effect of, “as a writer, you have to make me want to take your work to bed.” Because isn’t that what the end readers are ultimately looking for too? When I’m reading a good book, I can’t wait to crawl into bed with it each night.

That’s what I’m hoping to create: something that people can’t wait to pick up. It’s getting close. I’m working to print a copy for Daniel (always my first reader on anything) this weekend. I’m also considering hiring a professional editor, some objective professional to give me their opinion. But then again, I might have a few more friends read it first, and my writing group. They’ve already read it twice, but hopefully they’ll read it again. It has changed quite a bit in this last revision.

I’ll let you know next week if I’m successful in finishing the draft.

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Balancing a Writing Life

Disneyland
I had a great week last week. I got a ton of writing done, I checked off about a dozen items from my long-standing to-do list, and on Friday, we took the kids to Disneyland.

This is the first year we’ve gone in for the annual pass. We bought the cheapest version, which means we can’t go on weekends, or holidays, or pretty much any time in July, but we only have to go three times a year to make the expense worth it. We went once for Daniel’s birthday, once for my sister-in-law’s birthday, and as it turned out, my girl’s school had a teacher work day Friday, and and I don’t start the new job until tomorrow, so it was the perfect opportunity. We have officially made the annual pass worth it. And the kids are the perfect age. The boy is still a little hesitant on some of the bigger rides, but we had a blast.

And now it’s Monday, my last day before starting the new job. I’m a little nervous, and excited. I’m also a little sad to be stepping away from all the writing I’ve been doing, but I’ll still be writing, it’ll just be science writing instead of fiction. And I’ll still have my mornings. I made more progress than I expected to on the novel last week, and I think with another week or two of mornings working on it, I should have a draft before long.

Then there’s the new story. I’m very much wanting to get back to it, but I’m too close on the first novel to drop it. I’m going to at least wrap up this draft, then jump back into Novel #2. Such is the life of a writer, always balancing the demands of story, with the need to make a living. It can be a busy life, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Life As a Full-Time Fiction Writer

Okay, okay, I’m exaggerating a bit. I’m not a full-time fiction writer. Yet. But I still have one more week until I start my new position as a full-time technical writer, and for these two short weeks between jobs, I am happily pretending that I am a professional novelist.

I get up at 5am and do my usual hour and half of writing to start the day, then take the kids to school, come home, get some exercise, take care of some emails, eat something, then write for 3 hours or so before running some errands and picking the kids up from school. There are some variations, depending on the errands that need running, but all in, it’s an awesome life. And it’s all mine for one more week.

Don’t get me wrong, I am actually super excited to start the new job. It’s a perfect match for my skills. I even get my own office, which I’ve never had. I like the people, and they’re doing really interesting work with water management in California, but still…

Still, the dream remains to be a full-time fiction writer.

The novel is coming along well. I made some good progress last week. I don’t think I will be able to finish it this week, but it’s not that far off. I am going to give it all my attention until I get to the point that I can hand it over to Daniel for a read. Then I’ll be back to working on Novel #2. I’m not sure how to refer to Novel #2 here. I have a working title, but it’s not good. I’ll just stick with Novel #2 for now.

So that’s what I’m doing this week. Just loving the life of a writer, for a little bit longer.

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Two Weeks

glendale stationFriday was my last day of work. As I have been working remotely all this time, I had to make my way down to Orange County to return all my company-owned gear: laptop, cell phone, back-up drive, various cords, company credit card, etc. And since it was Friday, and traffic is horrendous heading north into LA on Friday afternoons, I took the train. It was kind of awesome.

Daniel dropped me at the Glendale station, which is a surprisingly lovely little piece of antiquity in the heart of Los Angeles, and instead of cursing my way through four hours of traffic to make the 100 mile trip to Orange and back, I sat back, relaxed, and started re-reading the latest draft of my novel (before I launch into rewrites during my two weeks off).

And that leads me to this week, the first of two weeks where I am unemployed, but don’t have to be looking for work. It’s a first for me. I love it. And, of course, I have totally overbooked myself. I have a whole list of things I hope to get done with this time, from finally finishing a family photo album, to taking the Pilot in for an oil change, but the most important item on the list is to work on the novel.

I’m about half way through reading my most recent draft. The beginning is good. I’m happy with it, but around page 70 it slows. That, I know, is largely due to the fact that I have rewritten and reorganized the middle of the book so many times that the whole middle section is almost like an outline, but at least now everything is in the right place. I hope.

I have struggled so long with this novel. The only real up-side to those struggles is that I have learned an enormous amount about how to actually write a novel. Never again will I just dive in. I have wasted literally hundreds of pages writing down the wrong path. Thus the fifty page outline for the new project. I never thought much of outlines, but I was wrong.

So I hope to finish reading the draft tomorrow. I might have been able to do it today, but I’m taking the afternoon to go to the spa. In addition to celebrating a new chapter in my life, I am rewarding myself for hitting the writing goal I set 4 weeks ago – six mornings a week, 500 words a morning, for four weeks.

Once I finish reading it, I’ll jump into edits. I don’t know how far I can take it in two weeks, but time will tell.

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Wrapping Things Up

full moon
This should prove to be an interesting week.

My company (for five more days) takes today off, so I don’t have to work, making my last week with the company a short one, and frankly, I’m totally fine with that. I’m working to transfer all my files to a new (to me) computer, so that I can return this lap top to my employer, along with my backup drive and my phone. So there’s a lot of logistics to deal with.

But not today. Usually, when the kids have a day off, we’ll do something fun as a family, but Daniel has to work, so we went ahead and signed the kids up for a gymnastics camp. It’s the first time they’ve ever done anything like this together. Due to the 3.5 years between them, he usually isn’t old enough for things she wants to do, so it’s kind of an exciting milestone. Even more exciting (for me) is that I convinced Daniel to take the morning off and lay around in bed with me. It was awesome. Just like when we were first dating. We even watched a movie and ate popcorn in bed (among other things I won’t be discussing here).

I plan to spend the rest of the day working on my fiction. The challenge I set for myself a few weeks ago (to get up every morning, six mornings a week, for four weeks) is going really well. I haven’t missed a day. This is the final week. The coolest part is, when I set that goal, I had no idea I would be accepting a new job, and that the end of this week would also mark the end of my work with my current employer. So assuming I can keep it up for another 5 days – I get my reward next Monday. I’m going to a spa near our house because it’s lovely, and has a sauna and nice spaces to lay around. I will get a massage, but I’m also going to lounge for a bit on either side of the massage, really embrace that fact that I hit my goal, and have a little time to spare for a change.

Writing 500 words a morning, even during all the chaos that has been going on, has been really good for me. The new project is up to about 13,000 words. However, starting next week, I’m going back to the other novel for a bit. While I have two weeks between jobs, I really want to make some progress and see if I can’t get a new draft ready for a read. So it’s back to “The Feathered Tale of Tallulah Jones.” I’m a little daunted to get back to it, but I also see these coming two weeks as a great opportunity to pretend I’m a full-time fiction writer. Not on retreat, not carving out some time, but actually writing for three or four hours a day, working around all the other things that still have to get done.

I suspect I’m going to love it.

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I Got the Job!

Last week I told you that I was talking with an engineering company about a full-time writer position they are looking to fill. Shortly after I posted that, I had an in-person interview with the man who would be my supervisor, which went really well, and all signs were pointing toward it being a really good fit.

Then we scheduled a phone call with me, the President of the company, and their HR lady. I knew this would be the brass tacks call, so to speak. That wonderfully fun conversation where all parties dance around the topic of compensation, because really, really, man oh man, nobody likes to talk money.

So I knew I needed to decide on what I wanted to ask for in terms of compensation. I called my mother-in-law, who was a pretty fancy CEO up until she retired, and who is still active with a lot of start-ups in the silicon valley. She gave me some pointers. The main thing it came down to for me was that I wanted to work less. Given the choice between more time and more money, I wanted the time.

The next day, on the call, I framed the discussion in terms of working 80% full time. That was what I wanted more than anything so it just made sense to frame the discussion starting there. I was pleasantly surprised when that suited them just fine. We worked out the details, and came to an agreement. The next day they sent me a letter highlighting the basics of what we had agreed to. I signed it and sent back and ka-zam – I got the job.

I am so excited about this, that for days I’ve been waiting for them to call up and say they made a mistake of some kind. I get to be a full-time writer, working four days a week, with super cool science nerds. I won’t be making any more money than at my current job, in fact, I’m taking a small cut, but if you break it down to an hourly rate, I actually am getting a pretty good bump in pay. And anyways – who cares! Full-time science writing. No more project management (which has always stressed me out). I get to just go to work, do a great job, and go home at the end of the day.

Daniel took me out to celebrate on Thursday, and I gave notice on Friday. My boss wasn’t thrilled, but he’s been very understanding. He knows this is a great opportunity for me, and it’s not like he’s loosing the client. My last day will be February 20th. After that, I’ll have two weeks before I start at the new job. I’m going to take the time to wrap up some projects, not the least of which is my novel. I don’t know that I can get it across the finish line in two weeks, especially considering some of the other things I need to get done (take the car into the shop, help my sister plan her wedding, run the kids to soccer practices), but I can make some good progress, I’m sure.

2015 is off to a great start.

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Unexpected Possibilities

An interesting thing happened to me at work a couple weeks ago.

I was on my regular conference call with a client, the President of a civil engineering company. We check in twice a month and he updates me on what’s happening with the company, so that I can then draft articles for the company blog, and update their website, and manage their social media. He mentioned that they needed to create a job posting for a full-time staff writer.

I reminded him that we (meaning the company I work for) would be happy to do the work, but he admitted that it didn’t make sense financially for them to hire a consultant to do full time work. They wanted to create a new position within the firm.

Treading carefully, I asked if I could be considered for the job. We both got quiet and agreed that we shouldn’t talk any further without first talking to my boss. Which I promptly did. Which is why I feel I can write about this here, even though it is still very much speculation. They’re not exactly sure what they’re looking for, but basically, they are doing a lot of drought management work, and they need someone who can understand the science, then translate it all into easy-to-read reports for the decision makers and board members of water districts across California.

I don’t want to get my hopes up, but this sounds like an amazing opportunity. My background in science, combined with my masters in writing, and experience in local politics (at my current position) make me a perfect match, if I do say so myself.

Anyhow, there’s not a whole lot more to say about it right now, but it is an exciting and unexpected opportunity. I will keep you posted on how it unfolds.

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Starting a New Story

writing spaceAt the end of last year, I was feeling frustrated by my novel, again. I promised myself that if I could push through to the end of the year, then starting January 1, I would start drafting this new idea I’ve been outlining.

I was excited to make the shift, I really was. But I slept in on the first, then it was the weekend, so I didn’t really get started until a week or so into the new year. And once I did actually get started, I struggled. If you follow the blog, you know I have a goal of 500 words a morning, six mornings a week. I get up at 5am and sometimes I’m done super quick. Sometimes it’s like pulling teeth.

The first half of January was like pulling teeth.

My theory is that it’s just been a really long time since I started something new. I just couldn’t hit a stride with it. Then I started oversleeping, missing precious writing time. At one point, I even seriously considered giving up. I told my husband that I was just too tired. Getting up early every day is hard.

He gave me a little pep talk and reminded me that I love writing. That hour and half of fiction writing every morning is what keep me grounded in the fact that I’m not just some hack working in marketing. I am a writer. And so I must write.

Of course, that doesn’t make getting up so early any easier. So I’m bribing myself. Starting this morning, if I can hit my goal of six mornings a week for four straight weeks, I will reward myself with an afternoon at a spa and a massage. Over sleeping is allowed (because honestly it happens some times) as long as I hit my 500 word goal every morning.

I love a good massage. And a good challenge. Hopefully this will help me rebuild the habit and make it easier for me to keep my regular writing time intact. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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The Adventures of a Helicopter Pilot

Dad with book
Due to the timing of a number of factors, not the least of which was that damn broken wrist, I completely forgot to tell you all about my dad’s book!

The Adventures of a Helicopter Pilot is my dad’s memoir about flying H-34s for the Marines in Vietnam. His job was particularly scary, as he would fly into the middle of active zones to did emergency medical evacuations. He took a lot of fire, lost a lot of friends.

When it finally came time to publish, he asked me write a blurb for him. Here’s what I put together:

Thoughtful, funny, and full of death-defying escapades, “Adventures of a Helicopter Pilot” is a treasure trove of stories. Bill’s writing captures the feeling of sitting around a campfire with cold beer and old friends. The perspective and humility he brings to the narrative are those of a once brazen young man who has lived to tell the tales. A great read.

ADventures coverThis book is particularly moving to me as his daughter. In the time since the war, so many vets have committed suicide. My dad had his struggles too. For years. Should you ever meet him, you will be surprised what an easy-going, sweet and thoughtful guy he is, but I remember a man from my childhood who was deeply troubled. Thankfully, he finally got help. My step mom had a lot to do with that. She encouraged him to get therapy, which he did, and I truly believe it saved his life. And now, for him to finally finish this memoir and send it out into the world, it just feels like he was finally able to wrap up that part of his life.

You can pick up a copy on Amazon. It makes a great gift, too, if you have any military pilots on your list. He’s been doing book tours all over the west, and is a big supporter of vet associations (as you might imagine). You can always reach out to him for more info. You can find him on Facebook.

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